Japan Day 26-29: Riding Nara to Kyoto and Exploring

Today’s ride was much easier, the first half was along a low speed road with minimal traffic and the second half had a riverside pathway and some designated cycle lanes leading into the city.

I left around midday and it was a tad warm, but I arrived around 3.30pm and made a new friend at the hostel. Sam is a German physicist who was visiting Japan after a conference in Yokohama and he introduced me to a Swiss physicist he met along the way too. They are both doing their PhDs and needless to say they’re pretty intelligent guys. We ended going to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is famous for its one thousand torii gates.

At first we thought it was underwhelming because the gates were really close together and packed full of tourists taking selfies, but it turns out the gates go all the way up Mount Inari, a 90 minute return trip.

The gates have different inscriptions and I think you could buy one if you wanted, although I’m not sure how much it would cost or where they would put it.

From the side it’s kinda cool how they’re slightly different sizes

The steps here are small, but it got a lot steeper towards the top. Also the vending machines got a little more expensive the higher we went.

Proof that we reached the top!

There was only a Japanese sign next to this one, I had no idea why it was so different

After so much walking we were ridiculously hungry and had an unusually large meal for dinner. This set meal came with chicken karaage (with a a delicious curry-ish batter), a big bowl of ramen and some rice on the side for 1000 yen ($12 AUD). We went back to our respective accommodations and planned to meet up the next day for a big festival in town.

Day 27: Aoi Matsuri Festival and Gion District

The Aoi Matsuri Festival is one of the three biggest events in Kyoto and it consists of a procession starting at the Imperial Palace and moving to the Shimogamo Shrine and the Kamigamo Shrine. It’s based on a tradition from the 7th Century when the Emperor made offerings to the gods, who were believed to be causing natural disasters. It was hard to see through the crowd, but there were ox-drawn carts, horse riders, floral floats and men and women wearing traditional dress.

We walked along the parade to the first shrine and had lunch while they carried out some ceremonies and had some sort of horse riding competition. The shrine itself was quite large and they had a live performance, although I didn’t fully understand what was happening, but it seemed interesting.

My physicist friends had one more colleague join us with her partner and we headed to the Gion district which is known for its old streets, shopping and temples. It was a long-ish uphill walk to Kiyomizu-dera Temple and tempting to buy so many desserts along the way. After all the walking we had dinner and headed back to the hostel for some drinks and chatter.

Day 28: Visiting Buddhist Temples

I hopped on my bike today and headed out to see two different Buddhist temples northwest of the city. Kinkaku-ji Temple is known for it’s Golden Pavillion, but it was really crowded and there wasn’t really much information about the buildings or the opportunity to have a look inside. Ryoan-ji Temple was much nicer because it had lots of greenery and free space to roam around and a zen rock garden in the middle.

I headed to Kyoto Station to find a place for lunch, but I was overwhelmed by the options and ended buying some salmon sushi from the fresh food department. The station itself was huge, it had 11 levels and so many shops and restaurants around the area too.

I had a nap at the hostel and caught up with my friends for dinner at an okonomiyaki restaurant, except the Kyoto style looks a lot different compared to the Hiroshima version. The photo looks weird, but the dish is served with a cheese sauce on top and there’s no noodles on the inside, so it’s more like a fluffy omelette, still tasty nonetheless. Afterwards we went to a really narrow alley, which was lined with bars where only six customers could enter at once. We sang along to some karaoke and headed back to the hostel for a few more drinks.

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Day 29: Tea Ceremony and Wrapping Up

Today was low-key, since I had a 130km ride out of Kyoto the next day. I did some laundry, checked the weather forecasts and booked my accommodation for the Japanese Alps. I headed back to the Gion district for a traditional tea ceremony, where our host showed us how to make our own matcha tea. The tea itself has roughly the same amount of caffeine as a regular coffee and we used a bamboo whisk to froth it up like a cappuccino. It was a very peaceful experience and a nice change from all the walking and time in the sun.

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For lunch I headed back to the hostel to finish off my left over snacks and chatted with some other guests in the lobby. I met a Perth guy named Andrew who was taking a break from work and choosing his travel destinations based on flight sales. So far he has found $250 airfares for Tokyo to Berlin and Paris to Miami, both trips are absurdly cheap and bound to be a lot of fun. The remainder of my day was basic admin, some grocery shopping and finding a good steak for dinner. I was mostly mentally preparing myself for the next two weeks, the alps will probably be the hardest cycling I’ve ever attempted, but I’m giving myself plenty of rest days and keeping the rides short to compensate for the insane elevation.

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Not sure why there was spaghetti on the side, but it was good anyway.

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